Trump Announced a $12 Billion Resilience Competition??
Somewhat overlooked in the Trump administration's request for $44 billion in supplemental disaster aid for areas of the United States affected by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria was a proposed $12 billion nationwide competition to increase resilience to future flood and hurricane disasters (see page 45 of the document above).
According to the White House request, $12 billion would be provided to states through competitive grants. To be eligible, states would have to, “have had more than one flood-related major disaster in the last four years…” The funds could go well beyond those areas affected by recent hurricanes. NRDC has been pushing a very similar idea.
Using data from FEMA I looked at what states and counties might be eligible to compete for this funding. The map below indicates the states that will be able to apply for a portion of the $12 billion, if Congress decides to fund the administration’s request.
The funding, if approved by Congress, would flow through HUD in the form of Community Development Block Grants for Disaster Relief (CDBG-DR), a common form of supplemental disaster funding approved by Congress. Normally, CDBG-DR funds are distributed exclusively to states affected by recent disasters and who have needs that can’t be met through the normal disaster aid made available by FEMA.
In the last five years HUD has run two innovative resilience competitions. The first, Rebuild By Design, was done in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. $930 million was awarded to nine winning projects in New York and New Jersey. This effort was a design driven approach to create innovative local resilience solutions. It was structured to connect local communities with leading design firms to collaboratively identify and solve problems and address vulnerabilities that had been exposed by Superstorm Sandy.
Rebuild By Design was such a success that HUD initiated the National Disaster Resilience Competition, which awarded nearly $1 billion to 13 states and communities. This effort, like Rebuild By Design, emphasized creative approaches to enhance resilience to natural disasters and not simply building levees, seawalls, or structural solutions, which can create new vulnerabilities along with a false sense of security.
We’re still waiting for details on the new competition proposed by the Trump administration, but it seems to have some things in common with these earlier successful efforts. According to the White House’s funding request, the funds will be used to support a mix of solutions to address areas at high risk of flooding. This will include solutions like improving building codes, making forward-looking plans (could that mean acknowledging climate change?) green infrastructure, and buyouts of flood prone properties, something that NRDC thinks needs to be more widely available. But unlike HUD’s past resilience competitions, this one would also allow HUD money to flow towards already authorized Army Corps of Engineers projects, which could allow some questionable projects to move forward.
Still, this is an unexpected proposal, considering the Trump administration’s abyssmal record on climate resilience and natural disaster preparedness overall (the administration rescinded federal flood protection standards just days before Hurricane Harvey made landfall and it proposed eliminating funding for floodplain mapping). NRDC has floated a similar idea with Congress to make funding available for another competition like Rebuild By Design, so we are pleasantly surprised to see this included in the White House’s request for disaster aid.